This is my review of the new book by the British journalist Brian Deer about what became the biggest medical scandal in recent history: Andrew Wakefield‘s fraudulent research on the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccines and his antivax campaigning which continues even today.
This is Deer’s book:
The Doctor Who Fooled the World
Andrew Wakefield’s war on vaccines
Everything in that book is a fact. Simply because Wakefield sued Deer several times before (and lost), and now his lawyers were surely poised to drag the journalist and his publisher to court for even the tiniest error or inconsistency. But Deer’s book was vetted by several editors and lawyers, every single claim and detail was independently scrutinised and cross-checked against documentary evidence, as Deer himself explains in the afterword. The fact that even the notoriously litigious, ruthlessly mendacious, obscenely wealthy and billionaire-funded Wakefield is unable to do anything about Deer’s new book is the best proof that every single word in it is true.
You cannot imagine a more despicable and vile person than Andrew Wakefield. He is so evil, it stretches credibility. His only principles are self-promotion and self-enrichment, his only skills are lying, manipulating and making money from human misery. His English pedigree background and good looks carried him through where less privileged fraudsters would have fallen badly. As a medical doctor Wakefield was always incompetent and never treated any patients in his life, as Deer calls him: “a doctor without patients“. As a researcher, he was an utter fraud. And yet, Wakefield always spoke of winning the Nobel Prize, it was his ultimate goal.
This was Wakefield’s paper which set off the global antivaxx pandemic over 20 years ago:
A J Wakefield, S H Murch, A Anthony, J Linnell, DM Casson, M Malik, M Berelowitz, AP Dhillon, MA Thomson, P Harvey, A Valentine, SE Davies, JA Walker-Smith Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children The Lancet (1998) doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(97)11096-0.
Wakefield should have landed on his arse long before that fateful 1998 paper in The Lancet. But the academic environment being what it is, there were enough greedy, incompetent and ruthless crooks eager to support Wakefield, some researchers apparently even committed their own research fraud to help him in the antivax crusade. The blood of the children who died of measles and other preventable infectuous diseases is also on their hands. Wakefield meanwhile basks in the adulation of the American and international antivaxxer community, and even of Donald Trump himself.
Deer’s book tells Wakefield’s story, from humble beginnings as a privileged narcissistic young man from a pedigree English family, to an ambitious and scientifically illiterate research fraudster and child-abusing “doctor without patients”, onto the leader of the global antivax movement of today. All this was fed by Wakefield’s immense greed. For fame and admiration surely, but first and foremost, for money, simple as that.
Brian Deer’s name became connected to Wakefield, even if Deer never wanted to be trapped in that quagmire. Whenever as the pharma scandal experienced journalist tried to move on to new topics, Wakefield pulled him back, by repeatedly suing Deer. Since some of the articles Deer published on the affair appeared on his own blog, the journalist personally became legally responsible (something I know too well about). Luckily, Deer’s publisher supported him all the way, and together they won every lawsuit Wakefield initiated in UK and USA even after the “doctor without patients” lost his academic job, his medical licence and his Lancet paper. But in order to win, Deer had to keep gathering evidence of Wakefield’s fraud, and that consumed all of his time for many years. As Deer writes:
“I’d become the Abraham Van Helsing to our subject’s Count Dracula, who now appeared to be climbing from his grave“.
Although, in my view, comparing Wakefield to Dracula is an insult to every vampire.
Wakefield grew up in a huge mansion, both his parents were doctors. His father Graham Wakefield was a top-ranking consultant neurologist. His mother Bridget Matthews was a general practitioner, but it was the ridiculously misogynous and masturbation-concerned psychiatrist grandfather Edward Wakefield’s name which may have opened all doors in English medicine for the aspiring young medical dynasty successor. Wakefield had to sit twice his entrance exams into St Mary’s Medical School, even though his father, grandfather and great-grandfather studied there before. The young man who always wanted to be a surgeon proved inept for that career despite all privileges set in his favour. Imagine how awful he must have been. He even failed his Master degree viva, or rather he “stormed out” of the oral examination.
In the 1980ies, the medical graduate Wakefield went to Toronto, Canada, trying to train in surgery where he obviously was so crap he decided to go into research. It was a bar in Toronto where he developed the idea to blame the measles virus and later the vaccines, Deer describes it as “The Guinness Moment”. Funnily, Wakefield’s then-boss only had the highest accolade for him:
“He did a lot of very good research over the years,” says Cohen. “We never had any doubt about his integrity. He is definitely not a corrupt individual.”
Maybe Wakefield used to always deliver the desired results, which impressed Cohen? Too many people in his academic career thought the way Wakefield approached research was perfectly fine. This attitude among peers is what leads to disaster with everyone playing surprised afterwards. Wakefield’s story is very reminiscent to that of another pathological liar, the thoracic surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, where I myself was sued and sentenced in court while the perpetrators continue practising medicine.
Returning to England in late 1980ies, Wakefield decided to move into gastroenterology and joined the Royal Free Hospital in London, which back then did not have a particularly high reputation (Royal Free later became part of University College London, UCL). Wakefield’s dean back then was the virologist Arie Zuckerman, who later on supported Wakefield in every way. Already in Canada, Wakefield decided to solve the mystery of the Crohn’s disease (a chronic intestinal inflammation) and postulated that it must be caused by a virus (everyone was into viruses back then, remember Robert Gallo’s cancer research?). Now, in London, Wakefield decided to find that Crohn-causing virus. How? He took a virology text book (Fields Virology) and went through viruses alphabetically until he reached “measles” and decided that that one must do.
Nobody at Royal Free told Wakefield he was a stupid ignorant git, maybe because certain of his medical colleagues were stupid, ignorant, but also privileged and pedigreed gits themselves? Instead, Wakefield quickly assembled a research team, and soon enough, his dean Zuckerman used his position as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Medical Virology to publish his paper (Wakefield et al 1993), where Wakefield claimed to have demonstrated the presence of the measles virus in the Crohn inflamed intestines. The paper soon after was proven as utterly irreproducible, the whole analysis turned out to be just incompetently-produced artefacts of some unspecific staining (at best). The last author of that work of crap science was Wakefield’s head of department and later staunch supporter, Roy Pounder.
Later on, Wakefield claimed to be a victim of a Big Pharma conspiracy against him. But that J Med Virology paper released a flood of Big Pharma money to him and to the Royal Free Hospital. And in 1995, Wakefield, together with Pounder, published another garbage paper in The Lancet, a longitudinal study of patient records Thompson et al Lancet 1995, titled:
“Is measles vaccination a risk factor for inflammatory bowel disease?“
What was it, dear reader? You ask if fraudulent bumwipe was also retracted? You silly person. Of course not, there is nothing wrong with it, ask Lancet‘s Editor-in-Chief Richard Horton, who took office just around that time, and has been battling whistleblowers and ignoring evidence of fraud and ethics breach ever since (including in Macchiarini case).
After that first Lancet paper, lovers found each other and an antivaxx love affair began which continues and grows stronger by day, even today. You see, there was of course an antivax movement existing before Wakefield, also because there were indeed dangerous accidents with bad vaccines before. In fact, the journalist Deer used to cover the DTP (dyphteria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccine scandal before Wakefield’s MMR. Back in 1989, a mother won a gigantic settlement of £2.75 million against the pharma industry for the damage her autistic child suffered allegedly from a DTP vaccine. It turned out, she was not telling the exact truth in court, but it made her rich. The doctor behind that antivax act was the paediatric neurologist John Wilson at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London this paediatric hospital featured prominently in the Macchiarini affair also). Like Wakefield, Wilson also had his own seminal paper blaming vaccines, this time DTP: Kullenkampff et al 1974. Also this doctor had a side business with personal injury lawyers where Wilson made a lot of money diagnosing developmentally challenged children with DTP vaccine damage. In one case, he certified this to twin girls who had a genetic defect and never even received any DTP vaccine in the first place. Thus, thanks to doctors like Wilson, the antivaxx movement already existed when Wakefield arrived to the scene to blame the MMR vaccine.
The timing was perfect. In late 1990ies, two MMR vaccines have been finally withdrawn in the UK because they contained an insufficiently inactivated measles virus. The former tobacco industry shill and University of California Berkeley professor of immunology, Hugh Fudenberg, was already parading some phony clinical data on children claiming that MMR vaccine caused autism (Fudenberg, Biotherapy, 1996). Wakefield used the MMR vaccine scare as opportunity to try and extort money from the UK authorities for his own vaccine research, threatening “there might be consequences” if they don’t pay him.
Meanwhile, antivax parents of autistic children who were involved with antivax organisations and who planned to sue the government and the Pharma industry for alleged vaccine damage, saw Wakefield’s 1995 paper in The Lancet and reached out to the doctor without patients. It was their own autistic (and sometimes even not autistic) children they specifically brought to him to be analysed for the pre-conceived intestinal vaccine damage, twelve of these children were then presented in the 1998 Lancet paper. Worst: similar to Wilson before, everything was organised by a lawyer representing these families, eager to sue the MMR vaccine manufacturers in a class action. The lawyer was Richard Barr, who applied on their behalf to the UK Legal Aid Board in order to fund his own clinical studies of vaccine damage research. It cost the taxpayer many millions (on Barr’s side alone, £ 26.2 million), a significant part of it went straight into the principal investigator Wakefield’s own pocket (officially, £ 435,643 plus expenses, 8 times Wakefield’s annual medical school salary). That was the one and only time when a lawyer ran his own clinical research in UK, paid by the taxpayer. The study protocol openly declared what the intended results must be:
“it should be possible to establish a clear causative link between vaccines and the two sets of conditions.”
With each child whom Barr sent to Wakefield to be diagnosed as vaccine-damaged, the lawyer was able to request more money from the Legal Aid Board to test even more children, while the doctor without patients was paid by Barr on an hourly rate each time. Even Wakefield’s dean Zuckerman noticed that this financial arrangement was beyond perverse. He even reported Wakefield to the ethics committee, but then remembered how much cash fell off for Royal Free as overhead, and withdrew his complaint. Zuckerman then organised to reroute the Barr money into a special trust, which was then “laundered back to pay for Wakefield’s research, carried out in the medical school“. Meanwhile, Wakefield was registering one patent after another, among which was a “vaccine for the elimination of MMR and measles virus“, which could be used as a preventive or a “therapy” for Crohn’s and by extension, autism. The doctor without patients became a research director (at £33k a year) of a Royal-Free spin-off company to market the vaccine, called Immunospecifics (for which he tried to engage Fudenberg as business partner, but apparently their mutual greed was incompatible).
Basically, the antivaxxer Wakefield planned to become a multi-millionaire by selling his own vaccine.
Long before the first child was scoped, Wakefield agreed to be on the lawyer’s payroll, their collaboration went back to 1995, the agreed fee for Wakefield was £150 per hour plus expenses. The Royal Free expert’s job was to receive all these child patients whom the lawyer Barr and his clients sent to him, with the specific purpose to find some kind of vaccine damage in their intestines. Local doctors were urged by the lawyer to refer the children to Wakefield for studies, so it would appear as if they came for a routine medical examination, and not as part of an antivax lawsuit. Children were subjected to some gruelling and painful investigations, sometimes literally dragged in kicking and screaming. The Wakefield protocol (designed together with the lawyer Barr) included brain NMR, blood and urine tests, spinal taps to seek for measles virus in cerebrospinal fluid, barium drinks and radioactive Schilling tests, and most prominently, colonoscopy with ileoscopy, or ileocolonoscopy, intubation into the small intestine.
Of course Wakefield and his expert colleagues, primarily the paediatric gastroenterologist John Walker-Smith and the paediatrician Simon Murch, found no evidence of Crohn at all, despite the extremely unpleasant and invasive ileocolonoscopy they subjected all children to (even those without indigestion symptoms). But the Royal Free doctors did find some allegedly dangerous and scary growths which they paraded as evidence of vaccine damage and which were later disproven by proper experts as perfectly normal Peyer’s patches, something even Walker-Smith knew too well, having previously edited a textbook on just that. One child’s bowel was perforated in 12 places during such ileocolonoscopy, which ended for Royal Free in a half a million pound legal settlement. In the case of another child, whose mother contacted Wakefield explicitly seeking clinical confirmation that her son’s autism was caused by vaccines, the bowels were found completely normal. Which prompted Walker-Smith to change the diagnosis of health to disease, namely “indeterminate colitis”. The child was then prescribed by Walker Smith the Crohn’s disease drug mesalazine, which carries the so-called “black box” warning, meaning it has extremely dangerous side effects. Walker-Smith went on to prescribe “mesalazine, olsalazine or sulphasalazine to almost every child enrolled in the project“.
It was not the only case where children with no significant abnormalities in their intestines were diagnosed with “non-specific colitis” and treated with harsh medication. Children with constipation were diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease, which makes no sense to an expert. The fraud was published in the Table 1 of the 1998 Lancet paper, featuring 12 children:
There was another study these authors tried to publish in The Lancet back-to-back, but it was rejected. That manuscript was showing the scientific aspects of the alleged MMR vaccine poisoning via the measles virus, but it seems the data was so abysmally bad that even The Lancet didn’t believe it. Wakefield later on went to claim the paper would soon appear in Nature.
While trying to shoe in some fake data into The Lancet, Wakefield was perfectly aware that his own lab members were unable to detect any measles virus in the children’s biopsies by PCR, not in the intestine, not in the cerebrospinal fluid, not in blood, not in one case. But Nick Chadwick was ignored, his research results were never published or shown to the legal board, because Wakefield tended to “disregard negative data“. One wealthy Californian tried to get a second opinion after his child was scoped by Wakefield’s colleagues, and delivered the samples to the virologist Robin Weiss at UCL. The father never received the results, and only after he threatened to sue did Weiss cough up the findings that no measles virus could be detected.
Like Wakefield, in 2010 Walker-Smith lost his medical licence after a titanic investigation by the General Medical Council (GMC) which went on for three and a half years. But unlike Wakefield, Walker-Smith won an appeal in court and had his medical licence restored. Murch was acquitted by GMC and is presently professor of medicine at the University of Warwick.
You may be forgiven for confusedly asking, wait what, why autism if they were scoping the intestines? Didn’t Wakefield initially claimed to have discovered that measles vaccine caused Crohn’s disease in the intestine, and not autism in the brain? Indeed. Problem was, although none of the many scoped children had Crohn (children never have it anyway), most were autistic or at least on the autistic spectrum, for which the parents blamed the vaccines and intended to sue (hence their pilgrimage to Wakefield). You still don’t get it? This is why Wakefield was educated by one of the mothers of the “opioid excess” or “leaky gut theory” of autism, which he then ran with, and which The Lancet found so exciting. The theory goes that the measles virus from the MMR vaccine causes chronic inflammation in the intestine, which makes the gut leaky so the toxins from the food travel to the brain and make it kaputt. Which food toxins? Well, bread and milk proteins, gluten and casein, obviously! When I wrote about that idiocy once presented in Frontiers, I had no idea that it gained popularity with Wakefield.
At the later stages of his antivax campaign, Wakefield abandoned the leaky gut theory to blame vaccine adjuvants (then mercury, now aluminium) for vaccine-induced brain damage, i.e. autism via metal poisoning. He is not alone with that theory obviously, here an article on just that, featuring the antivaxxers Christopher Shaw, Lucija Tomljenovic and Christopher Exley. Even the Israeli Academy member Yehuda Shoenfeld deep into this adjuvant theory of autism.
The parents who arrived to have their children scoped at Royal Free, were advised by the lawyer to always claim the autism symptoms appeared no later than 14 days after the MMR vaccine jab, as a legal proof of causality. Barr even admitted it to Deer. Which they duly did, some later were caught on having lied there. In some cases the autism symptoms appeared long after the immunisation, and in some cases even before. Deer writes in this regard:
“before long the Royal Free would become the Mecca, or Lourdes, for desperately questing families of developmentally challenged children”.
The 1998 Lancet paper featured 12 children, all diagnosed with autism and clearly described as damaged by MMR vaccine in Table 2. At the end, the paper declared: “Up to Jan 28, a further 40 patients have been assessed; 39 with the syndrome.” Deer was able to prove at least 100 children in total, using court register files. In almost all, symptoms were declared to have first appeared no less than 2 weeks after immunisation.
Deer was able to find out the identities of all 12 children, and prove that their ileocolonoscopy diagnoses and the alleged association of their autism to the MMR post-exposure syndrome were fake. Some children were not even autistic, of whom two were brothers. The journalist managed to interview some of the parents, one of whom (the only family not involved in Barr’s lawsuit, those from California) called the Lancet article “simply an outright fabrication“. Another parent called the paper “not right and fraudulent“, also regarding their child’s description. How did Deer obtain all that confidential patient data? All part of legal discovery when Wakefield sued him for defamation.
As soon as the Lancet paper appeared, Wakefield embarked on his cross-continental antivaxxer crusade. It started with a press conference at Royal Free, and continued in the US, where Wakefield does his toxic work even today. The move was needed, because not long after the Lancet paper was published, Wakefield was sacked by Royal Free. The newly recruited director, the immunologist Mark Pepys, described Wakefield as “a wanker and a fraud” and demanded for the latter to be sacked. As a condition for his further employment, Wakefield was first given the opportunity to reproducible his results using all the money and technology he needed, but the fraudulent wanker first agreed, and then chickened. At around the same time, evidence of data fakery in Wakefield’s research was uncovered. Wakefield threatened to sue Pepys and Royal Free, but in November 2011, Wakefield signed a settlement and resigned. He received £ 109,652 (after tax) and could keep all his patents for magic vaccines. The year before, he was found guilty of fraud by GMC and had his medical licence revoked, after a titanic hearing which Deer had been attending every day. Also in 2010, the 1998 Lancet paper was retracted with the notice:
“Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al 1 are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. 2 In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.”
Long before that, weeks after the 1998 Lancet paper was published, Wakefield was almost exposed. By a woman, the gastroenterology professor at University of Edinburgh, Anne Ferguson, during Wakefield’s lecture at the Medical Research Council, The MRC. Critics already started to wonder why all PCR results were negative (despite being much more sensitive than antibody staining) and why Wakefield omitted crucial negative controls for the measles virus antibody. Wakefield’s sidekick Scott Montgomery (who received £ 90k from the lawyer Barr) then unintentionally showed some data which outright contradicted his boss’ results on the risks of vaccination. And then Ferguson, wondering about selection bias, rose to ask: where did Wakefield get the children? The other implication being, if the children arrived at Royal Free as part of a research project, that would be illegal, because Wakefield had no ethics approval for that.
Indeed, the children were officially declared to have been referred by their local doctors to Royal Free because they allegedly suffered of an intestinal inflammation. Officially they were sent to Wakefield not for research but for standard medical care. In reality, they were referred to the London university clinic because the lawyer Barr and the parent antivaxxer network organised a gigantic research project, funded by the Legal Aid Board, with Wakefield as the principal investigator on Barr’s payroll, in order to get the diagnosis they needed to sue the vaccine manufacturers. Ferguson did not know about any that (nobody did until Deer found it out), yet she still pointed out that Wakefield’s first interest in measles vaccine coincided in 1994 neatly with the creation of the antivax organisation JABS, with the specific purpose of a class action lawsuit. Wakefield retorted by blatantly lying, claiming “the parents came to us de nouveau“, without any connection to any organisation. Ferguson ended up apologising, but she might have smoked the fraudster out nevertheless, had she not prematurely died later the same year.
Wakefield and Montgomery then went on to publish in 2000 a notorious antivax pamphlet titled “Measles, mumps, rubella vaccine: through a glass, darkly“, in an obscure journal which soon ceased to exist. It made big news in the media and stoke on the fires of the antivaxx movement.
And then there were other crooked doctors eager to cash in by helping Wakefield. Meet John O’Leary of Coombe’s Women’s Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, who together with Wakefield gave evidence in 2000 to the US House committee chaired by the antivax Republican Dan Burton. The Irish expert claimed he also detected the measles virus in the autistic children’s intestines, both by the same PCR technology Chadwick failed to detect any measles with, and especially by the new method of the quantitative Real-Time PCR (qRT-PCR). Burton then proclaimed Wakefield to be a titan of medicine.
O’Leary pretended to be an independent expert, but he was also on the lawyer Barr’s payroll, via the company Unigenetics O’Leary co-owned, the director of which happened to be Wakefield. The company received £800k in total from Barr. Later on it came out that O’Leary was mostly amplifying artefacts using 45-50 qRT-PCR cycles, without the required “no template” negative control, with different PCR cycle numbers for measles genome vs the housekeeping gene. An independent reanalysis attempt proved O’Leary’s data to be all over the place, raising suspicions of contaminations. A strange kind of contamination, because formalin-preserved samples contain technically little nucleic acids, certainly hardly any RNA, yet in O’Leary’s hands they turned to brimming with measles RNA. Another example: the raw data for a non-autistic child, which O’Leary accidentally released, proved to be positive. In yet another independent analysis with coded blinded samples, O’Leary inadvertently pronounced one of the 12 Lancet 1998 children to be “negative for measles“, while 3 negative controls (labelled with family name Wakefield, who just happened to have 3 children back then) were “tabulated as infected with the virus“. The scientist who did this analysis was actually hired by Barr, and was made to sign a confidentiality agreement, the results were never published. Other labs fared the same with O’Leary’s data. There never was any virus in any of the samples, unless they were sent to Dublin for analysis, and returned positive.
To me, the whole story actually rather reads like somebody was deliberately fabricating the data in the Dublin lab to produce the “right” results. Let’s not point fingers here, Trinity College Dublin Professor O’Leary won a lifetime achievement award after all, having prior to that renounced Wakefield and the vaccine autism link.
Together, Wakefield and O’Leary published their results in Molecular Pathology, as Uhlmann et al 2002 (no, it was not retracted, you think it should?). Prior to that, O’Leary joined Wakefield in 2000 to defend the 1998 Lancet paper against criticism, again waving his qRT-PCR data as unassailable proof. O’Leary was also supposed to provide Barr with the genetic sequencing results to match the alleged viral infection to the MMR vaccine, but the Irish expert never delivered. Wakefield himself refused to order the sequencing, as “unnecessary”.
In this regard, Wakefield relied on Hisashi Kawashima, professor at University of Tokyo, Japan, with whom he claimed to have traced back the measles infection of autistic children to the specific virus strain used in the MMR vaccine, by genetic sequencing. The paper was published as Kawashima et al 2000, and also never retracted despite being exposed as fake. Turned out, its smoking gun proof that the sequences from autistic children matched the vaccine-strain measles was confounded by the fact that these genetic sequences matched just one certain measles-infected patient who died from subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE). Wakefield was warned by Chadwick about that, but obviously didn’t care.
The class action lawsuits by the parents of autistic children in the UK were all unsuccessful, except obviously for Barr, Wakefield and others who made huge money with it. With their research programme concluded, Barr and his wife/assistant turned to promoting homeopathy. Without a job either as doctor or a scientist, Wakefield was free to do whatever he wanted. And he did, the antivax activities in America proved rather lucrative for a pathological liar driven only by narcissism and greed. In USA, Wakefield met new friends and business associates, like Lenny Schafer (publisher of the antivaxx newsletter Schafer Autism Report); Jeff Bradstreet (who used to operate an autism therapy quackery centre in Florida, until he shot himself dead after FDA raid over his GcMAF treatments); and then of course the TV producer turned antivaxxer Del Bigtree and the “vaccine safety researcher” Brian Hooker, the two gentlemen with whom Wakefield went on to make his success move, Vaxxed (which was of course followed last year with a sequel, Vaxxed II). The movie claimed to expose an imaginary governmental cover-up, with the evidence of vaccine-damaged African-American boys, in reality the autistic children only got finally vaccinated because their Black and socially disadvantaged parents got to see a doctor way later than white parents get. As Deer put it:
“It likely wasn’t the vaccination causing their autism, but their autism causing vaccination”.
The movie was reported to be funded by the hedge fund billionaire Bernard Selz, who also financed Wakefield’s lawsuit against Deer. While celebrity support for Vaxxed arrived with Robert De Niro, and later, with Donald Trump.
Naturally Wakefield also played a key role in the US vaccine court trials, which are a huge scandal in their own, which cost enormous sums of tax money and led absolutely nowhere, at least for the parents. The antivax grifters and greedy lawyers who played these parents, did very well. Here a glimpse featuring one protagonist, the former scientist, then court-expert, now antivax idol and COVID-19-denialist, Judy Mikovits. One famous case in the US vaccine court affair, is that of the autistic child Michelle Cedillo (documented at length here), Deer’s reporting helped to get it dismissed. Here, the mercury adjuvant was blamed for neurotoxicity, rather than the leaky gut theory. The central piece of evidence which Theresa Cedillo presented to court was a letter by Dr O’Leary: “Positive for measles virus“. Without any details whatsoever, except the quantified virus content: 1.67 x 10^5 copies/ng total RNA. Meaning, the girl’s intestinal tissues must have consisted mostly of the measles virus and little else. The confusion was resolved by the fact that Mrs Cedillo forgot to mention to the court that her daughter was already severely autistic at least 7 months BEFORE her MMR vaccination.
Many wonder why it took The Lancet so long to retract Wakefield’s paper. 11 years. It wasn’t for the lack of evidence. In 2004, Deer arrived at The Lancet office to present his combined evidence to the Editor-in-Chief Richard Horton (Deer’s account of the encounter here). The corruption, the clinical trial managed and funded by a lawyer who directly paid Wakefield to produce desired results, the lack of ethics approval for experiments on children, Deer presented everything. But Horton was a former colleague of Wakefield, they used to work alongside each other at Royal Free. When Deer finished, Horton told him to hide because Wakefield has arrived. Why? Because Horton was appointing an investigative committee to address the allegations against Wakefield’s paper. The committee’s members were… Wakefield himself, plus Walker-Smith, Murch and another coauthor involved in ileocolonoscopy of some of the kids, Mike Thompson. The committee was supervised by Zuckerman’s successor, the new dean Humphrey Hodgson, and Wakefield’s personal publicist, Abel Hadden.
You see, Horton was always the master of trolling. Which verdict do you expect from such a commission? Exactly. Murch, who was an ethics board member at Royal Free, even certified that his own research was “in accordance with the ethics committee approval“, because he found an ethics vote, with code number. Never mind it referred to a different vaccine, with different children and different diagnosis. The Lancet rejected all Deer’s findings except one: the financial conflict of interest. That one Horton proudly revealed to media without crediting Deer, as if it was his own investigative scoop.
News reports exploded, and suddenly 10 out of 12 authors of the 1998 Lancet paper (including Walker-Smith and Murch) withdrew their names as coauthors and distanced themselves from the publication. Meanwhile the GMC investigation having ran for 3.5 years, was concluding. It was originally meant to wrap up in 35 days, but when Wakefield, Walker-Smith and Murch claimed they never did any research, but merely provided medical care, the GMC panel had to go through the entire 12 children cohort case-by-case, in excruciating detail.
Whet the Lancet paper was finally retracted in February 2010, Horton played the clueless victim and declared “I feel I was deceived“.
Measles is back. And Andrew Wakefield is very proud of what he achieved.
PS: The patient-support website CIRCARE (whose founder Elizabeth Woeckner collaborated a lot with me while investigating the Paolo Macchiarini affair) also contains many original documents from the Wakefield case, for example:
- Consent form for Lancet study, 1996
- Lancet Study protocol, 1996
- GMC report from 2010
- GMC misconduct findigns against Wakefield, 2010
PPS: as usual, I wrote this book review without receiving any payment. I did obtain the book gratis from the publisher.
If you are interested to support my work, you can leave here a small tip of $5. Or several of small tips, just increase the amount as you like (2x=€10; 5x=€25). I don’t have a publisher to support me in lawsuits.